Two freshman Congressmen from southern Illinois want the Army Corps of Engineers to start thinking of ways it can coordinate management of the Mississippi River to keep cargo traffic flowing during droughts or floods.
"The bill would have the Corps treat the entire drainage system as one entity," said Democrat Bill Enyart, a co-sponsor along with Republican Rodney Davis. "How do you balance someone getting to go boating against being able to get barges full of soybeans and corn out to feed the world? As it stands today, we can't balance those."
The measure asks the Secretary of the Army to look at possible changes to how the Corps manages locks and dams and upstream reservoirs. Last year, the Corps was criticized for its decision to close Missouri River reservoirs, which reduced flow into the Mississippi at the worst of the drought. Officials said they were required by the Missouri River management plan to preserve water for recreation.
Enyart and Davis' measure also calls for improvements to river gauges, and allows the Corps to do work like dredging or rock blasting outside of the main navigation channel without special permission from Congress.
Davis says this past summer's drought shows why the changes are important.
"Because of the forecasting that the river, the [navigation] channel may not be open, coal miners in my district lost jobs," Davis said. "Based on the forecast. Based on the possibility of the Corps not having the flexibility or the permission to go blow up rock formations."
The measure also asks the Corps to conduct a 10-year habitat restoration project.
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